Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yoga and Longevity

Working in the health and wellness field I've heard it all when it comes to health and longevity claims. Every week it seems there's a new product, study or claim; green tea, pomegranates, blue-green algae, coconut water, raw diets, sleep, stress reduction and the list goes on and on.

Recently, POM Wonderful created an ad campaign suggesting that its pomegranate drink can actually help you cheat death. A few months back I heard and radio ad for a Group Health website that will help you "find more minutes" to add to the length of your life.

With all these claims and products swirling around it's easy to develop a neurosis trying to fashion the best plan to live longer. You may even be worried that stress from it is shortening your life. It seems we've created the belief that the length of our lives is determined solely by our actions.

We go to yoga class thinking "OK so there's 1o minutes added to my life but subtract 15 for the burger I ate before." Life suddenly becomes an a ledger of additions and subtractions and nothing more.

I'm reminded Jesus' words to the people 2000 years ago who were apparently worried about the same thing; "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?"

And maybe we shouldn't be worried. With every claim comes a counter claim. A recent study cast doubt on the effectiveness of eating five fruits and vegetables a day to ward off cancer. Apparently the people in the study who ate them were almost as likely to get cancer as those who didn't. (Yahoo Health) So while you were worried last night that you hadn't eaten enough vegetables yesterday, it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.

I'm not trying to stoke a fatalistic attitude and suggest that we might as well take up smoking and eat as many cheese burgers as we want. Instead, we should be focused on enjoying every moment we're given rather than worrying about how many moments we'll have later.

If you leave yoga class thinking of how many minutes you just added to your life and get hit by a bus (forgive the morbid thought) how much good did yoga really do you? But if instead you savor the relaxed feeling you received from class and get hit by a bus, well then at least you died happy.

These are probably bad examples, but the point is for all our efforts to live longer, we may be shortening our lives. When we worry about a future problem, we are not in the present and therefore missing out on the current moment. Instead looking for more future minutes, how about finding more minutes now? This after all is the real point of yoga, not longevity.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Grace, healing and prenatal yoga

No, I'm not pregnant. I thought it best to get that out of the way first. For some reason though, there's an assumption that because I teach prenatal yoga I must, therefore, be pregnant. The question isn't always asked directly. Usually the person I'm speaking with gets a funny look on their face and does a quick scan of my stomach to see if there's a baby-bump. Trust me there's not. All those plank-poses have kept my tummy in top shape. Anyway, having taught prenatal yoga off and on for 5 years, it would be an awfully long time for me to be pregnant.

Being pregnant isn't necessary to teaching prenatal yoga. Neither is having had children. It's knowledge and expertise that count, not a personal experience. There are plenty of male ob-gyns and obviously they haven't given birth.

But being a woman the question of how many kids I have invariably is asked at the beginning of each new prenatal session. Since I technically don't have any, the next question is of course, "When?"

The answer to this question is much more complicated which is what I usually say and leave it at that. Notice that I said "technically" none. This is where it gets complicated.

Four years ago I had a series of miscarriages. It about did me in. Some women can suffer loss after loss and keep going. I couldn't. Rather than face more potential losses with no explicable reason except a diagnosis of "bad luck," I decided that I'd rather not have children. It was an agonizing decision but it was the only one I felt truly peaceful about.

I don't usually tell my prenatal classes about this fact since they've all heard enough horror stories from other people and don't need to hear mine. My job is to make them feel relaxed about their pregnancies not anxious. Besides I don't want them to feel sorry for me or have my sorrow detract from their joy.

Yet those who know my history wonder how it is I can still teach a yoga class for pregnant women? Some might find it masochistic or just plain weird. The reality is I find it healing. It forces me to face my fears and grief rather than run from them which will only prolong them.

As friend after friend has entered the journey of parenthood, having been around so many pregnant women, I've been able to face all those baby showers with a brave face. Likewise, many of those same friends have taken the class from me which allowed me to be a part of their pregnancies in ways I might not have otherwise been.

Still, the biggest help I've had has been the grace that I've received from the same God I once blamed for taking away my chance to be a mother. I can only say that this grace is miraculous because I don't know where else it could have come from. Despite my anger, sorrow and self-pity, it appeared unbidden. Now, I can honestly say that my prenatal class is one of my favorite classes to teach.

There but for the grace of God go I.